outliers

I just finished the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It was an interesting, quick read on what makes successful people a success. It felt very anecdotal, although a lot of the reasoning seemed valid. Some of my favorite tidbits follow. May they serve as inspiration perhaps?

(This quote was in response to the fact that most Canadian hockey players are almost all born in the first quarter of the year, which gives them up to 12 months of maturity and growth on kids born later in the year, which gives them better access to the better coaches, practices,…)
Do you see the consequences of the way we have chosen to think about success? Because we so profoundly personalize success, we miss opportunities to lift others onto the top rung. We make rules that frustrate achievement. We prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail. And, most of all, we become much too passive. We overlook just how large a role we all play — and by “we” I mean society — in determining who makes it and who doesn’t.

The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t just work harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

(Comparing two geniuses, one “successful”, one not)
Would Oppenheimer have lost his scholarship at Reed? Would he have been unable to convince his professors to move his classes to the afternoon? Of course not. And that’s not because he was smarter than Chris Langan. It’s because he possessed the kind of savvy that allowed him to get what he wanted from the world.

“They required that everyone take the introductory calculus,” Langan said of his brief stay at Montana State. “And I happened to get a guy who taught it in a very dry, very trivial way. I didn’t understand why he was teaching it this way. So I asked him questions. I actually had to chase him down in his office. I asked him, ‘Why are you teaching this way? Why do you consider this practice to be relevant to calculus?’ And this guy, this tall, lanky guy, always had sweat stains under his arms, he turned and looked at me and said, ‘You know, there is probably something you ought to get straight. Some people just don’t have the intellectual firepower to be mathematicians.’ ”

There they are, the professor and the prodigy, and what the prodigy clearly wants is to be engaged, at long last, with a mind that loves mathematics as much as he does. But he fails. In fact – and this is the most heartbreaking part of all – he manages to have an entire conversation with his professor without ever communicating the one fact most likely to appeal to a calculus professor. The professor never realizes that Chris Langan is good at calculus.

That particular skill that allows you to talk your way out of a murder rap, or convince your professor to move you, is what the psychologist Robert Sternberg calls “practical intelligence”….

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One Response to outliers

  1. SteveM says:

    bought it for my Kindle. it’s on the stack 😛

    I think one aspect of interpreting practical intelligence is one’s aim. Consider the artist vs. the mechanic. One aims to make it run, well. The other seeks to fulfill an aesthetic. So, the term “practical intelligence” is presuming something about one’s aim which may or may not exist..

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